Fantastic Fest Review: REMAKE, REMIX, RIP-OFF

A hilarious - and thoughtful - examination of Turkish cinema's insane, copyright-free heyday.

On its surface, Remake, Remix, Rip-Off: About Copy Culture & Turkish Pop Cinema seems to continue the tradition of Mark Hartley’s raucous Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed. But the film surprises viewers by asking us to consider the real-world consequences of its hilarious, stranger-than-fiction stories of a film industry built in equal parts on a copyright-free culture and a “safety last”, at-any-cost work ethic.

Writer/director/editor Cem Kaya does an excellent job of tracing the roots of Turkish cinema from impassioned arthouse melodrama of the '40s and '50s, to the IP free-for-all with which we associate “Turkish movies” today. A cultural predisposition toward watching (and loving) the same stories over and over clashed with a distribution system that didn’t allow the bigger titles to play in the more rural parts of the country. On top of that, the film introduces the intriguing notion that the Turkish government encouraged (and subsidized) the people’s love of cinema, as it kept them placated and docile. “All governments loved melodramas,” one filmmaker recalls. “(The logic was) the audience should cry and feel relief.”  

And so an astonishingly small pool of writers and directors began to create copies - in the hundreds - of well-known films, produced (and reproduced) for an audience mad for any cinema they could get their hands on. Free from any real copyright law, Turkish filmmakers stole classics of literature (Wuthering Heights) and screen (Some Like It Hot), producing them over and over for a market that had no home video, no real television, and no archival system in place. Watching another version of a film was pretty much the only way to experience it again. In one astonishing sequence, Kaya synopsizes a popular Turkish love story using clips from what appears to be 20 different versions of the tale.

These films were cranked out with little time and less money. “I saw A Fistful OF Dollars, the next day I remade it”, brags one director. And they were fleshed out with existing material, frequently scored with one gentleman’s impressive soundtrack LP collection. (The Godfather theme was a particularly popular track.) If filmmakers needed a fiery explosion in space, it would be cut out of a Star Wars print that happened to be passing through town. In a culture where copyright doesn’t exist, stealing other people’s material simply isn't viewed as criminal or even particularly distasteful, and evolved over the decades into a singular, weird cultural hallmark.

The age of the Hollywood blockbuster really seems to have sent the whole thing into overdrive, and remakes of The Exorcist, Rambo, Superman, Rocky and E.T. were birthed as fast as possible, and the film presents some statistics that are hard to fathom. Turkish superstar Cüneyt Arkin proudly claims the negatives of all his films, spliced end to end, would circle the globe twice. Another actor is less boastful about the thousands of films he’s made, defending his lack of discrimination with the line, “how could I know that TV would come and I’d be disgraced every day?”

The last third of Remake, Remix, Rip-Off veers from Not Quite Hollywood-style laughs, as the anecdotes subtly shift from zany antics to grim tales of woefully negligent safety measures and dangerously exhaustive working hours, a condition which, the film shows us, still persists today. (A television director laments the “good old days” when his predecessors had a whole week to make a movie). The film’s third act shift is a sobering turn, but it’s an important bit of context, and one which transforms a film like this from a breezy string of amusing clips and stories into an important cultural and historical chronicle. It’s easy to laugh at the films presented - the film certainly invites us to do so - but it also gracefully offers us a more resonant experience to go along with our laughter. Remake, Remix, Rip-Off: About Copy Culture & Turkish Pop Cinema gives us the privileged opportunity to step outside ourselves and examine the deeply different ways - and reasons - other cultures both create and absorb entertainment.